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Sam and Oz go overseas!

Posted on 01/12/2012 @ 01:12 PM

We arrived in the UK slightly jet lagged, but got straight to work with convention prep at the UK office. We each enjoyed dinners at our respective host families homes and rested up for an eventful day of touring. We met at the Kings Crossing (no a platform 9 3/4 does not exist) and crammed as much sightseeing as we could into one day. We went to Buckingham palace, Trafalgar's square, Piccadally Circus, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliment, and got high tea. That evening we had dinner with some of the UK national board at the President-Hannah Tendler's-home. The next day we packed up the office for Choref (Winter camp) and headed to the English country side to set up. We spent the day setting up camp, decorating the walls, and preparing the logistical side of camp. The following day the teens arrived and we had an amazing 5 days with them! We had meaningful services, a moving Havdallah, ran a globalization program, attended competitions, participated in electives, and an awesome Israel program! The convention helped us to really understand BBYO UK and to see how we could both help each other more. We can wait to see the National Execs at IC and to share traditions!

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In front of Buckingham Palace

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With the BBYO National Execs

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At a Pinner BBYO meeting

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At a Sofia Chapter Meeting

Bulgaria was an absolutely life changing experience. To find out more about the trip please read the entry below. These are photos from the Bulgaria BBYO Sofia chapter program as well as the Hanukkah marathon we participated in. Here is Sam on Bulgarian national TV http://www.btv.bg/news/bulgaria/story/882300117-Evreite_praznuvat_Hanuka.html

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Running in the Hanukkah marathon

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At a market in Izmir

We are thrilled that we got to be the first GAG and N'siah to visit Turkey. The community in Turkey is incredibly welcoming and, as the only truly original Sephardic community, rich with history as well. We got to tour the remains of the synagogues that once existed and see the ones that are still in use. We attended a youth movement Hanukkah program and got to meet with the leadership board. We met with community stakeholders to learn about the adult Jewish community and the Hebrew school teachers to explore partnership opportunities. We are thrilled that Turkish teens will be joining us at IC and ILSI!

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With our Ethiopian friends in the Holy Land

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Proud and Honored -- Our time in Medinat Yisrael

Posted on 01/04/2012 @ 01:12 PM

Both Samantha and I had been on trips to Israel on organized trips or with family, but never as “adults,” and boy did we have an adventure lines up for ourselves. We flew from Turkey to Israel with a layover in Istanbul, and arrived at Ben Gurion Airport in the afternoon.

As usual, I had a little bit of trouble getting past the Passport checkpoint because I’m of military age and an Israeli citizen, but it didn’t take too long to claim our bags and meet Julie – our kind JDC host – outside.

We took a shuttle from the airport to Jerusalem, lit our last set of Chanukah candles (Israel was the third country we had done this in!) and headed out to dinner with all the JDC Fellows – who were so welcoming, kind, and excited for our visit.

The JDC’s role in Israel is actually very different than that in most other countries. While in communities like Turkey and Bulgaria they were doing Jewish renewal work, the time they spend in Israel is deeply invested in relief and social work.

Did you know that one of every four Chareidim (utlra-orthodox Jews) live under the poverty line? Or that thousands of Israeli children live below the poverty line? The JDC is doing its best to right that, out of love for our beautiful Jewish State.

Along with more serious things like hunger and poverty, the JDC also works with a few youth communities that we had the privilege of meeting. The first of which is Chaverim BaTeva, or “Friends in Nature,” which seeks to empower young Ethiopian Israelis to connect with their communities, their Israeli/Jewish Identity, and leadership, all through nature. We had the privilege of meeting with the and inviting them to IC – they’re excited to come, and we can’t wait to have them. We’re now working heavily with them as a partner in Israel, as we share a lot of the same values – it’s a privilege to be able to impact a community in such a meaningful way.

Julie – the fellow that met us at the airport – then took us to the group she works with, called Aliyah Anonymous. Many of you must remember them from IC last year, where they made quite a splash! A-Squared , as we called the group (to not be confused with Alcoholics Anonymous), welcomes new Olim (or Jewish immigrants to Israel) to find a place to call home in a foreign land. They plan programs with each other, get together, and look a lot like BBYO here in the states – but are around to show Jewish teen – and especially Olim – how important it is to contribute to building the Jewish state and to stand up for oneself.

We had an eye-opening time in Israel – we’re so glad to have had the privilege of experiencing it through the eyes of Israelis, and to have a part in building it with them. We can’t wait to see all our friends at IC, and we hope you’ll welcome them with open arms as well.

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BBYO Bulgaria: A Meaningful and Inspiring Journey

Posted on 01/04/2012 @ 01:12 PM

We arrived in Bulgaria immediately after leaving BBYO UK’s National Choref Convention. It was a quick flight (only about two hours) and when we landed at the Sofia airport, we were greeted by the smiling faces of Slavyan and “Kando” Kanovsky, “Puki” Panchev, and some of their friends.

We woke up early that next morning to head over to a meeting with their stellar national president, Natalie Assa at the JCC. It was an unmarked building that opened five years ago – right across the street from their synagogue – and has quickly become the center of Jewish life in Sofia.

The story of Jewish life in Bulgaria really is amazing. Bulgaria is actually the only country to have consciously saved all of its Jews during the Holocaust, most of whom fled to Israel after the war.

Those that stayed behind were supporters of new communist regime that gained power after World War II. When religion was outlawed, most of the Jews decided not to tell their kids that they were in fact Jewish, and the Jewish community disappeared.

After the fall of communism, some of the people who remembered that they were Jewish from their childhood decided to reestablish a Jewish community with whichever Jews had remained and the money they had saved up. The JDC faxed over pages of the Talmud and Mishnah to them as they slowly began learning more and more about Jewish life. They gathered lists of Jews from pre-communism and traced their descendants (most of which were born to intermarried parents) to inform them that they were Jewish and try to rally them to be a part of the Jewish community.

Resources were scarce after the fall of communism, so the JDC came in and offered food and resources to the Jews there, and began to build a Jewish community that way. In 1994, BBYO came to Bulgaria once again and started programming with the teens and bringing them to international programs.

Ever since, BBYO’s been empowering teens to make a difference left and right. Jewish teens in Sofia and Plovdiv go and plan BBYO programs, learn what it means to be Jewish through that, and go home to teach their parents Jewish ritual and values.

Post-communism, charity and volunteering aren’t especially popular, but BBYO teens have made it a key part of their Jewish experience to serve and donate. They do community service a few times per month, and while Samantha and I were there, they shared with us their “eight good deeds for eight nights of Chanukah” initiative, in which they commit one act of Tikun Olam for every night of the holiday.

During their Chanukah celebration at the synagogue, they pointed out to us that most of the kippot in the synagogue were of a blue-teal color. When we asked them why, they proceeded to explain that these were brought by a BBYO teen coming on the Ambassadors to Bulgaria program one summer.

Nearly all the Judaica in Bulgaria comes from the states on the Ambassador trip every summer. Menorahs, kippot, and Tanachim are just some examples.

BBYO Bulgaria is now looking to expand into other communities around Eastern Europe, and have engaged teens from Serbia, Macedonia, and Albania.

We got the chance to meet the rest of the BBYO board members in both Sofia and Plovdiv, met some of the key players in the Jewish community, and got to go on a sightseeing tour of Sofia as well.

It was such a pleasant surprise that BBYO has had this kind of impact on a community somewhere else in the world – and that we were a part of that.

We can’t wait to see Natalie and their Community Service/Social Action Vice President Mimi at IC 2012 – reppin’ Bulgaria like it’s their job. We are so proud and honored to be connected to them and to be a part of their community.

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Oz's Canadian Adventure!

Posted on 12/12/2011 @ 01:12 PM

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After a week at home with my family for Thanksgiving break, I took the long journey up North to visit BBYO in Montreal and Ottawa, better known as the Eastern Canada Region! I flew from San Francisco to Denver, Denver to Toronto, and finally making it to Montreal ten hours later – but I couldn’t have been happier to be there.

I was warmly greeted by Carolyn Booth upon my arrival, their charismatic and dedicated Regional N’siah, who had a packed schedule prepared for me. We grabbed some dinner and headed over to her house to crash for the night. The next morning, we woke up bright and early to explore the Jewish community of Montreal, where nearly 10,000 Jewish teens make their home. They’ve got a number of Jewish high schools, a huge JCC, and a summer camp of their own as well. Oh, and did I mention they all speak French? It felt like I was in a whole different world!

Later that night, we all gathered in a room at the JCC to do a quick program about community, we all learned about where we came from and why we came from BBYO and each and every one of their stories were really touching: how BBYO feels like a second home to them, and has given them the best of friends. More than anything else, even while living in a city with one of the most powerful Jewish communities in North America, it’s given them a place to feel Jewish like nowhere else in the world.

After three days in Montreal, I caught a two-hour bus to Ottawa, Ontario and met up with their Regional Aleph Godol, Ben Smith. I got to spend a fun weekend with his family in snowy Ottawa. Godol of B’nai Amitai AZA, Eyal Podolsky, came along to join the fun. That Sunday, we had another program at the JCC and spent some time playing Basketball.

The next day, I woke up bright and early to get a ride to the Ottawa airport. I caught a flight to Lake Ontario Region’s very own Toronto, Ontario!

I was picked up by Kevin Goodman, their regional director and taken to the JCC where I got to meet their stellar program associate, Jessi Greenspan. They gave me the low-down on what was happening with Lake Ontario – like how they’ve more than tripled in size in the past three years, doubled their number of chapters, and have one of their biggest conventions in recent history coming up that weekend, the first of which to be Tournies-style.

Throughout the week, I got to meet with all of their chapters, their adult board, and their awesome regional board members. Magen AZA shared with me their spirit preparations (Congratulations on the second place Tournies trophy!) and L’Chaim definitely impressed with their sisterhood. Exodus and Chaverot also had good stuff to show off too – congrats to both of you as well!

I also had the distinct pleasure of grabbing lunch with your Int’l D’var Torah Chair Benji Fages. He’s done a great job this year – you can see for yourself at https://www.facebook.com/groups/136982183078414/

Toronto is an amazing Jewish community, with nearly 10,000 Jewish teens and Jewish organizations left and right that are doing their best to fortify a Jewish future in that community – and it’s definitely working!

Geographically speaking, it’s also really cool. Almost every single Jewish organization, restaurant, community center, or business is lined up for miles along Bathurst Street. They celebrate diversity, pluralism, and involvement, and we’ve got a lot to learn from the way Toronto does Jewish.

In the future, as LOR continues to grow, I’m excited to see where teens will take on international leadership to share with us the lessons they’ve learned from being a part of a powerful Jewish community like Toronto for all of us to take home with us to our communities. The LOR teens and staff are to be commended for their efforts in growing their region in the past few years and I look forward to seeing SIXTEEN of them at IC.

Big things are coming out of Canada – watch out world!

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Sam's SJR Visit

Posted on 10/01/2011 @ 02:12 PM

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South Jersey came immediately following my Philly visit. Before heading into Jersey I met up with the 84th Grand Aleph Godol Evan Herron who was able to give me great advice and tricks of the trade. Following lunch with Evan I met up with Sarah Minion (Shout out to Dorm 4). Sarah and I caught up on life and then went to the Cherry Hill JCC for a regional board meeting and an advisor meeting. One of the advisors (shout out to Arielle Bernstein) was my Madricha when I went to Perlman as a participant and it was very cool seeing her as an advisor. Following that meeting I went back to Sarah's house were we worked on convention planning, promotion for the Panim One for All Summit (Sarah's the coordinator), and got a visit by your International Aym HaChaverot, Lindsey Duboff! The next day I met up with a BBYO alum and the RAG (Brett Sklar) while Sarah was at school. Sarah and I then went to a regional board gathering to put together last minute convention items. The next day Sarah and I got dinner with the SJR chapter N'siot (some of the coolest girls around) and then went to prep at the JCC for convention. On Thursday (time flies by!) I went in to work with Ira Dounn and we got to talk about SJR and put together convention folders. I got lunch with Brett and we were able to talk about AZA and the opportunities for growth this year. That night I got dinner with a BBYO alum and the next day headed over to the JCC to load up for convention!

Unfortunately weather was not on our side and we had to ride in a storm (something straight out of a Howie Day song) to the convention site. However, getting to the convention made it totally worth it because the site was absolutely beautiful. Convention started off with dinner and an awesome rap by Ryan Nordeen. We then had wonderful friday night services and headed to bed. The next morning was jam packed with awesome programming. We had shabbat electives, I got to run one on globalization and one on legacy leaving*, and the S'ganim ran a truly amazing full-fold Israel themed color war/scavenger hunt (sooooo fun!). We ended Shabbat with a Hunker led Havdallah with s'mores, and bonfire under stars that could rival that of Perlman's. We closed up the night we separates wish were super messy and meaningful! The next morning we had a Parli Pro education business meeting that was super informative and then moved into BBGG and AZAA. The convention was a great success and SJR's first RLTI in 5 years! I can't wait to see what comes out of BBYO nights,brotherhood, and sisterhood this year!

Respectfully submitted to South Jersey Region with undying love for FYH, Sminion, Growing up: FRGM, headbands, play-doh, crazy eyes, American Pie Dance, Felicia Ganns, Jill Curwin, Candace Braude, Evan Dannebaum, Adam Bienstock, Alexa Vecchio, and many others I forever remain,

Sam Levinson

Happy to rebok with some of the best

*If you ever want me to send you a program I mention please just email me nsiah67@gmail.com

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